The harvest season begins this week for our CSA farm members who get the Organic Veggie Box or go to the Organic On-Farm Market at Worden Farm. Whether you are a new or returning CSA member, or even a farmers market customer, here a few general guidelines to help you keep your veggies fresh and delicious after you get them home.
Clean and organize your refrigerator
- Throw out bottles and containers of “mystery food”.
- Wash your refrigerator vegetable bins and shelves with a solution of one tablespoon of baking soda mixed with one quart of warm water.
- Check your refrigerator’s temperature. For most refrigerators the temperature is adjusted by a numbered dial so I like to use a refrigerator-freezer thermometer to check the temperature zones. Set the temperature in your refrigerator to fall between 32-40 degrees F. Keep in mind that warm air rises and cold air falls to the bottom of the refrigerator.
- Reorganize your refrigerator to make room for your farm share. Veggies can be stored on any shelf in the refrigerator and not just in the vegetable bin.
Organize your vegetable storage supplies.
Every year I learn new ways to keep my farm share fresher longer. Wrapping vegetables in “old” all-cotton dish towels and cloths rather than buying rolls of paper towels has worked well for me. Not only does it save money, I think the dish towels absorb moisture more effectively. Additionally, I line the vegetable bin with a clean dish towel.
You’ll need a supply of about 16 towels to rotate week to week allowing for time to launder between use. Remember to wash new towels before using them and do not wash towels with bleach, fabric softener and do NOT use dryer fabric softener sheets.
Some people like using glass or plastic containers for storing their veggies. I like using assorted sizes of resealable plastic zip bags. To me plastic bags fit more easily into refrigerator spaces. Also resealable bags are available in several sizes. The jumbo size easily stores greens and lettuces whereas the smaller size bags are perfect for radishes, squash, etc.
Plastic bags can be rinsed, dried and reused several times during the harvest season and can even used from season to season. Many grocery stores have recycling bins for plastic bags.
Labeling the plastic bag makes it easier to find a specific vegetable in your refrigerator. Making labels with masking tape and a “Sharpie” pen is quick and inexpensive.
Make sure to organize your storage supplies before picking up your farm share to help you get your veggies into the refrigerator more quickly.
And if you do not own a salad spinner, now is the time to buy one! I thought a spinner was just another useless kitchen gadget to store. Thankfully, several years ago a farm intern persuaded me to buy one. A salad spinner is one of the best kitchen tools I have ever bought. They are great for washing any green leafy vegetable, salad green or herb, blanching and can be used as a serving bowl too. Just make sure to buy the largest size.
After picking up your vegetables
Head directly home after you pickup your farm vegetables. If the weather is warm or you are not going straight home put a large towel and cooler with a bag of ice or frozen water bottles in your car before heading out to pick up your share. Heat is brutal on fresh picked vegetables. Store the vegetables in the cooler by placing the heavier vegetables at the bottom (squash, beets, cucumbers) and the lighter ones (lettuces, peppers and herbs) at the top. After filling your cooler place the towel over your vegetables then add the ice on top. Do not put the ice directly on the vegetables.
General storage tips
- Do not store fruits and vegetables together.
- Remove ties and rubber bands and trim any leafy ends of vegetables such as carrots or beets. Leave about an inch to keep the vegetable from drying out. Some of the leafy ends maybe eaten so store them as you would any leafy vegetable.
- When you get home, work with the most perishable vegetables first. That would be herbs, lettuces and leafy vegetables. Store them unwashed . Wet greens spoil quickly.
- Store delicate mesclun mix, arugula, spinach or other small leafy vegetables loosely in bags layered with cotton dish cloths or paper toweling to absorb moisture. If you are using plastic bags squeeze the air out of the bag before sealing.
- Plan to eat delicate vegetables early in the week. At my house we eat a “big” salad for dinner on farm share pick-up day.
- Tomatoes and avocados like to sit on your kitchen counter until ripe. Do not store tomatoes (except cherry) in the refrigerator.
Most likely you organize your grocery shopping based on recipe ingredients and menu planning. To best enjoy your local farm’s bounty it’s just the opposite. You plan your meals around your seasonal vegetables. At first this seems awkward and confusing but once you get the hang of it you’re eating fresh and just what’s in season.
Fill your pantry with a variety of beans, pastas, rices and whole grains to complement your veggies.
Stocks and soups are a quick fix for extra vegetables. Remember to save vegetable scraps in the freezer in a well-sealed plastic bag or container.
Think sweet and savory. Many vegetables can find their way into quick breads and cakes. So don’t limit your thinking to vegetables being just a side dish.
And even though you may not be a vegetarian, now is the time to let vegetables rule your plate.
By Francine Wolfe Schwartz, food writer and long-time Worden Farm member